ECOSPECTIVE: City heritage more than protecting buildings

Daniel O’Neail, Special to

Daniel O’Neail
Last week I met with Steven Edwards to find out what made him an environmentalist. I figured a member and official historian of the Green Party and long time member of London Advisory Committee on Heritage (LACH), he must have been working for years on environmental issues.

I was surprised to learn that wasn’t the case. Steven joined LACH due to a deep love of history and historical structures, and joined the Green Party for the social-justice aspects of the party’s beliefs.

But this opened a door. Steven had always been aware of environmental issues, but in the abstract. Now he was meeting people who could present to him environmental concerns, and they were not granola-crunching, wild-haired, tree-hugging, pot-smoking hippies.

He was meeting well-dressed, well-educated, everyday people who could present to him the scientific data and the relationship between man and his environment, in clear concise language.

His viewpoint began to change, he no longer had to wonder how a six-year-old daughter of a non-smoking friend could have asthma. We now know that the rate of respiratory illnesses is on the rise and is directly related to our smog and air pollution.

He was able to draw on his new awareness to see that the environmental crisis had a direct effect on his life, and was able to combine with it his knowledge of history to make some interesting points. To have social justice, you need to have a sustainable society, and you cannot have a sustainable society without addressing the environment.

Social justice includes bringing relief to our impoverished, but our current society is designed around corporate guidelines that, by their nature, oppress the poor.

We live in a society of consumers and I do not mean just shoppers – I mean those that devour.

Uncontrolled growth and expansion, simply because we are taught to always move forward: if you have 10 try for 20; if you have 20 reach for 100.

This type of thought process is the source of our environmental crisis.

It’s one of the reasons Steven’s work with LACH is so important: to preserve living snapshots of our heritage, be it natural like the Thames River, or a neo-gothic structure like the old Post Office at Richmond and Queens.

These areas are preserved and protected to provide future generations with examples of how we use to think, and perhaps slow us in our haste to build a disposable world where speed of construction outweighs sustainability, and cost outweighs artistic value.

That old building on Richmond, faced in dressed stone, covered with artistic carvings, and containing polished hardwood and ornate brass, was constructed as a make work project for the unemployed during the great depression – a make work project that reflect more pride in workmanship than many of our newest building.

Most developers will tell you it’s to expensive to build like that anymore, it cost too much, but how long will our current buildings last?

Are they designed to be functional in a century?

I honestly don’t know but would be surprised if the plans took that length of time into consideration considering the large gaping sinkhole presently parked in the middle of downtown.

Uncontrolled growth, in an effort to gain enough revenue to maintain the infrastructure of our city, just isn’t working. As we build more the infrastructure grows and we cannot keep up on the maintenance.

Every new subdivision needs new roads and sewers, and we hook them up to pipes that have been in service for 50 to 100 years and increase the pressure.

Each new road needs to be plowed, repaved, repaired, and contributes forever to the cost of maintaining the city, and “the center cannot hold.”

I can only hope that more people will become like Steven, who took the time to take pride in our city heritage, and learn how he can contribute to protecting not just the buildings, but the ecology.

He lives in a walkable community – Cherryhill – and rid himself of his personal automobile. He’s become more vocal on ecological wisdom and how it can help with our healthcare crisis, and most importantly to me, he can show our children, and great grandchildren, how our grandfathers took pride in their work.


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